I. In Focus This Week
Cuyahoga County’s Jane Platten bids farewell
Director credited with turning around troublesome jurisdiction
By M. Mindy Moretti
Cuyahoga County, Ohio’s elections chief Jane Platten hasn’t been around as long as some of her peers in the elections world, but she certainly has faced her share of ups and downs.
And it is the fact that there were far more ups than downs that it came as a surprise when she announced her resignation in late November.
In 2007, Platten became the county’s fourth elections director in seven years after the county suffered a series of disastrous elections and was put under administrative oversight by the Ohio secretary of state’s office.
Under her tenure, Platten replaced the troublesome Diebold DRE voting machines with precinct-based optical scan machines, reduced the number of precincts which saved the county money and conducted several trouble-free elections with elections results coming in before midnight.
“As a board, and under her … leadership, we’ve made leaps and bounds,” Election Board Chairman Jeff Hastings told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “I think we’ve been one of the premier boards in the country in terms of conducting elections, in large measure because of her leadership.”
It’s not just elections officials who will miss Platten. The Cleveland Plain Dealer opined that the county board of elections will have some big shoes to fill.
Norman Robbins, research director for Northeast Ohio Voter Advocates also wrote in an op-ed that, “It is Platten’s unusual capacity to recognize criticism as a challenge for improvement rather than as a form of undesirable antagonism.”
Platten’s last day in the office is Friday, the 14th, but before that, she took some time to reflect on her elections tenure and look ahead to how she sees the future of elections.
After five years running elections in Cuyahoga County, you’ll be moving on this week. Why are leaving, where are you going and was it a hard decision to make to leave the field of elections?
I have accepted a position as Chief of Staff in the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s office. Leaving the elections world is bittersweet because I do love this business and I love the election process, but I am moving into a very interesting field. It’s time to move on and grow and broaden my professional experience.
You stepped into a bit of an elections mess when you were hired in Cuyahoga County, what was the most difficult time/issue you faced during your tenure?
I started as Director in early 2007 after at least three very tumultuous years at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections.
There was the disastrous roll out of electronic voting equipment in May 2006, the agency was still reeling from criminal convictions stemming from the 2004 recount, employee morale had bottomed out and 70 days before the Presidential Primary, the Secretary of State at the time declared that Cuyahoga County needed to move to a new paper based voting system.
I had a two track task on my hands which was reorganize and revamp the agency structure back to health and implement a new voting system and develop from scratch new processes and procedures while also preparing for a Presidential election.
What do you feel were your greatest accomplishments and why?
Watching the life come back to the agency and lights go on in employees eyes again is what I am most proud of during my time as Director. We took a very beaten down and broken agency and turned it around.
When I first became Director, I would tell people that the CCBOE would one day be a national leader in election administration and I would get snickers or even outright laughing in response. Here we are today in 2012 and the CCBOE is truly a model for best practices that is looked to by other boards across the country.
Are there things that you weren’t able to accomplish in Cuyahoga’s elections that you wish you could have?
There are always things we can do better and learn from after each election. But, my task and the reason I took the job was to turn the agency around and fix the brokeness of the process. We accomplished those goals and that is why now is a good time for me to move on to my next challenge.
What will you miss most about working in Cuyahoga’s elections department and in the field of elections in general?
I love and will miss being in a position of offering a service that allows a person to exercise a most fundamental and treasured right which is the right to vote. I will miss the excitement of election day and watching the motions of what is a huge, multi-faceted process.
Elections are filled with crazy and amazing stories (spiders breaking voting machines, women in labor voting, etc.) what’s the craziest thing that ever happened to you while running the elections in Cuyahoga?
In November 2011, I received a call in the middle of the afternoon on what had been up to that point a relatively quiet general election day and was told that one of my poll workers had bitten the nose of a voter. After asking in disbelief multiple times if I had heard the report correctly, I learned that one of our poll workers had gotten into an argument with a campaigner and a voter. After a few minutes of escalated arguing, the worker bit the voter’s nose. It was by far the craziest moment I can recall.
As someone who has intimate knowledge of elections, where do you see the administration of elections going in this country and what would you like to see?
I hope that elections become more uniform in process across the country. If one county or state conducts elections differently than any other and a ballot is treated differently elsewhere, then fairness in election administration will always have room for doubt. A person’s absentee ballot may not count in Ohio if a voter does not print their name on their envelope, but in another state that may not be a fatal flaw and the ballot will count. Election laws should be consistent across the board to protect voters.
Post election auditing is on my wish list of also. I’d like to see uniform requirements for counties and states to conduct post election audits after every election.
I also hope to see more access to early voting across the nation and allow voters as much access to the ballot as possible within a reasonable timeframe. We live in a world of convenience in every other facet in our lives, but when it comes to voting convenience, I’ve seen too many recent attempts in too many counties and states to cut back on offering more opportunities for voting.
II. Election News This Week
- Florida state elections officials conducted their fact-finding tour throughout the Sunshine State this week in attempt to get to the bottom of what exactly went wrong on November 6. Secretary of State Ken Detzner has met with officials in Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and Broward counties to name a few. Detzner told the Palm Beach Post, that it is becoming obvious that a “one-size fits all” approach to voting laws doesn’t really work for a state as large and diverse as Florida. In Miami-Dade and Broward elections supervisors asked for expanded and more flexible early voting. Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher also asked for flexibility in early voting, but also focused on ballot length and regulation for ballot printers.
- Following the November 2012 election, officials all over the country are reviewing the process to see what, if anything needs to be tweaked before the next major election. In Arkansas, county elections commissions are considering a switch to vote centers. Susan Inman, president of the Arkansas County Election Commissions Association said that the association is in the early stages of coming up with a bill to allow counties to make the switch. “I think it’s a great idea,” Inman told KARZ.
- This week, the Green Party of Hawaii sued the state’s elections chief over the shortfall of ballots in several Oahu polling places during the November 6 election. On Election Day, almost two-dozen polling sites ran out of ballots completely. The suit seeks to stop Nago from conducting another election until a proper plan is in place to prevent ballot shortages.
- A report from the Government Accountability Board in Wisconsin said that Gov. Scott Walker’s attempts to eliminate same-day registration in the Badger State would not reduce the administrative work for clerks and it would actually cost about $5.2 million in additional funds. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the report also said that eliminating same-day registration would “dramatically” increase the number of provisional ballots used. Two Republican legislators are working on a bill to eliminate the popular same-day registration, but Senate President Mike Ellis (R-Neenah) cautioned that it is not a done deal and following the report, Walker announced that he would no longer support eliminating same-day registration.
- In other report news, Political Data, Inc. reports that more than 25,000 voters in Sacramento County that voted in November had recently registered to vote online. Although the Sacramento Bee notes that those voters only represented 5 percent of the over voters in the county, those who registered online in the waning days of the election cycle were younger and more likely to cast a ballot.
- Personnel News: Yuma County, Ariz. Recorder Robyn Stallworth-Pouquette was recently elected president of the Arizona Association of Recorders. Cass County, Mo. Clerk Janet Burlingame can keep her job at least until the next election, a judge has ruled by denying a petition by the state to remove Burlingame from office for allegedly violating state nepotism rules. Ottawa County, Ohio board of elections Director Jo Ann Friar will end her 18-year tenure at the end of 2012. Washington Secretary of State-elect Kim Wyman has begun hiring for her upcoming tenure including Ken Raske, her current chief deputy auditor in Thurston County to serve as assistant secretary of state and Pierce County’s chief deputy auditor Lori Augino to serve as the state elections director. Imperial County, Calif. Registrar of Voters and Clerk of the Board Sylvia Bermudez announced her resignation on Monday effective immediately. Bermudez, who has been with the county since 2001 and became the county’s first appointed — as opposed to elected — registrar of voters in 2011. Bill Rousseau was sworn in as the Sonoma County, Calif.’s clerk-recorder-assessor and registrar of voters this week. Rousseau will be completing the term of Janice Atkinson who is retiring after 40 years with the county. Chris Davis is the new elections administrator for Cameron County, Texas. Guilford County, N.C. board of elections Director George Gilbert is retiring effective March 1. Gilbert has been with the county since the late 1980’s. San Diego, Calif. Registrar of Voters Deborah Seiler announced her retirement this week. Seiler joined the San Diego office in 2007 and prior to that served as assistant registrar in Solano County and worked for several voting machine manufacturers including Diebold. Assistant Registrar Michael Vu, formerly the director of elections in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, is expected to assume Seiler’s position.
Alaska: Voter ID
Hawaii: Voter turnout
Iowa: Early voting
Kansas: Provisional ballots
Louisiana: Ballot length
Maine: Secretary of state
Mississippi: Voter ID
Ohio: Jane Platten
Tennessee: Vote counts
Texas: Voter registration
Washington: Ballot counting
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IV. Job Openings
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Elections Manager, Jefferson County, Texas—performs administrative work of a managerial nature to ensure that elections are carried out properly. Duties involve managing the conduct of federal, state and local elections in accordance with state and county laws, regulations, and policies. Education: Bachelor’s degree or minimum six years of experience in related field, Certified Elections Registration Administrator (CERA) preferred. Requirements include: Thorough knowledge of state and county election laws, regulations and procedures; general knowledge of the common requirements, policies and procedures of the news media regarding information pertaining to elections; ability to repair, develop or install complex software or management information systems; and ability to supervise employees. Salary: $45,276-$60,000. Deadline: Applications will be accepted Jan. 1, 2013 through Jan. 15, 2013. For more information and to apply, click here.